I'm a news magazine junkie. My office, car, and house are littered with magazines of all kinds. My backpack usually has two or three stuffed in it. I subscribe to several including WIRED, the Atlantic, and Texas Monthly. Call me crazy, but curling up with a high-end rag like the New Yorker is heaven. My motto has always bring make sure you bring something to read.
I've always been this way, and sometimes it used to piss my dad off. He's a retired high school basketball coach, and I think he always had visions of me being the point guard at Duke or some shit like that. I rode the pine all through high school, and I think that I mostly made the varsity out of sympathy more than anything else**. He always complained that I the only kid who brought a book to the gym. Of course, if I had a dollar for every high school basketball game that I've seen in my life...Well lets just say the Atlantic can get you through a lot of boredom.
But, good reading habits have paid off more than a good jump shot ever would have. Genetically, I never had a chance at being a power forward at Gonzaga, but the ability to assimilate and analyze lots of information in a hurry has served me well professionally both in my military and civilian careers. Reading makes you a better soldier.
I was at Fort Huachuca for a school earlier in the month, and I needed a magazine fix. I went to the PX, and I had one of those reminders of the demographics that make up the Army. I was surrounded by every game, semi-porn MAXIM look-alike, and gun magazine on the market. But, no New Yorker. Crap.
This is par for the course for the Army who more or less has a lock on the lucrative 18-24 year old male demographic. However, I think things should be different at Fort Huachuca, home of Army Intelligence.
We are the soldiers that commander's rely on to be intellectuals. Plus, we are bombarded by data and conflicting points of view that we have to sort out. While entertaining, a steady diet of boobies in MAXIM does not make you a better intelligence soldier. Well written and researched journalism that broadens your horizons does. Good journalism answers the "how" and "why" just like good intelligence. Intel soldiers are the investigative journalists of the military (And not in the Geraldo "Al Capone's lost vaults" sense) so we can learn a lot from good reporting and writing.
So how do you make "intelligence" soldiers "intelligent" or at least turn them into wannabe pseudo intellectuals like some dumb Captains I know? If you're a leader of intelligence soldiers, how do you broaden their horizons and make them think "outside the box"?
Well, if you're unlucky enough to be assigned to my company, you get homework along with a healthy dose of lecturing you from a know it all captain. You get to watch movies
too, but the French sub-titles probably turned you off.
Below, is the homework assignment that I gave my soldiers earlier in the year. I made everyone in the company, myself included, write essays chosen from the topics listed below based on the guidelines that I provided. They then had to present their essays to their peers and their peers critiqued them. A subscription to MAXIM wouldn't help you with these questions either.
I was really surprised at the quality of essays and discussion that I got out of my soldiers. They kicked ass. I was also surprised at who wrote the best answer. You never really know who is pretty damned smart until you do things like this.
So take a look at the abuse that I inflicted on my guys and gals. I won't post their answers because I don't have their permission, etc. Instead, think about how you would answer these. Some of these are large macro issues, but in the era of the strategic corporal
it is important for even the most junior soldier to try to wrap his/her mind around these ideas. Some of the essays flirt slightly with controversy. That was not my intent. I wanted to provoke thought and discussion, and I was lucky enough to get great results. Enjoy.
**Note: Okay, I'm not a total non-athlete. I did graduate from Infantry School which requires some degree of physicality. But, I'm not built for hoops, a genetic impairment that my dad could have mitigated by marrying a taller woman or letting me play football. (And yes this is the exact moment in time where my dad quits reading my blog.)Intelligent Homework:
As "intelligence" soldiers, we are the only branch who have the job of thinking like the enemy. Combat commanders depend on us for a clear understanding of the enemy. It is our job to "think red" and understand what the bad guys are up to. In the good old days of the cold war, this was a much easier task. Looking for Soviet-style tank and artillery concentrations in open terrain was relatively simple compared to what now faces us in the Global War on Terror (GWOT). We are fighting a highly adaptive and constantly changing enemy. Our enemy does not necessarily wear uniforms and often blends in with the civilian population. He often chooses to fight in urban areas in a fashion that negates our technological advantage. And, make no mistake, our enemy is highly skilled, motivated, and technologically savvy. He is willing to fight and die for his cause, and he believes, just as much as we do, that he is RIGHT. He is willing to take the fight to our homeland and commit horrific atrocities like videotaped beheadings in order to win.
As intelligence soldiers it is our job to tell our commanders how they can win. We gather intelligence, analyze it, and make assessments. We bet our bars and our stripes against our own intellectual ability to understand the enemy. Against a Soviet-style army, this task involved things like destroying enemy artillery and locating and destroying key command and control nodes. Now we are fighting things like religious ideology and organizations that are virus-like with no clear hierarchy. In other words, we are in a totally different kind of war than our country spent the last fifty years preparing for.
For many of you, this is not news. You have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan and understand the nature of the fight. But, for many of our soldiers, this type of warfare is new and unfamiliar. We did not study it in our MI MOS schools and so, like our enemy, we must adapt. This homework assignment is the beginning of our year-long effort to become experts at guerilla-style conflict. Our enemy is radical Islamic terrorism, and we must understand it to be intelligent intelligence soldiers.
Each soldier will pick or be assigned one of these topics. You will produce a typewritten report in the subject of no less than one thousand words. You will also provide a digital copy of this report, and you will document what sources you used on a separate sheet. For instance, if you use a book, you will provide the title for the book. Or, if you use a website, you will provide the address for the website. This information is separate from the word count for the actual report. Also, you will use no less than three separate sources.
Once the reports are written, they will be presented to the company at November drill. After each presentation, the company will discuss the merits of the paper and the points raised by it. Some of the topics may seem controversial or unpatriotic. They are not. This is an exercise designed to help you gain a different perspective on our enemies. Additionally, you should avoid broad characterizations in your reports. If you say, "the sky is blue" you should have documentation to back it up.
Here are the topics:
1. "Usama Bin Laden (UBL), My Savior"
In many parts of the Islamic world UBL is considered heroic. He is viewed as a guardian of their faith, culture, and values. From the perspective of an Islamic person living in the Middle East, explain this.
2. "The Center of Gravity"
Military doctrine states that you should attack the enemy's center of gravity in order to defeat him in battle. The center of gravity is something that the enemy cannot win without. For instance, many consider that airpower and technology is the US's center of gravity. What is the center or gravity for Islamic extremism and how should we attack it?
3. "The Great Satan"
In many parts of the world, Islamic and non-Islamic alike, the US is considered the biggest threat to world peace. People believe this despite all the great works that the US does throughout the world. Why does this hatred run so deep in the Islamic world, and what are the historical causes? Write your answer from the perspective of an Islamic person living in the Middle East.
4. "Allah Akbar"
Many Muslims in the Middle East live their faith in a way that is hard to understand to most Westerners. Islamic terrorists usually seek some sort of religious justification for their actions. Explain how this process works and cite current examples. Can we exploit this to our benefit?
5. "The CNN Effect"
The information age has changed the way wars are fought and won. In particular, satellite news outlets, such as Al Jazeera, and the internet have had an impact on the GWOT. Explain how this happens and site current examples. Also can the media be manipulated by both sides?
6. "The Jihadis"
The GWOT is not the first time Western powers have fought Islamic insurgencies. Discuss past Islamic insurrections and their causes. Also, answer who won and why.
7. "Abu Ghraib"
Discuss the impact of Abu Ghraib on the GWOT. Seek out examples of how Muslims in the Middle East have reacted to this.
8. "The only good Muslim is a..."
Is the entire Islamic world against us? Do we have any true allies in the Middle East besides Israel? Are the allies that we do have hurting us more than helping? How does this impact the GWOT?
9. "Why They Fight"
Examine the roots and causes of the insurgency in Iraq. Who are we fighting and why? How do we win?
10. "Hearts and Minds"
How do we win over the Islamic world? How do we do it on a small scale in cities such as Fallujah? And how do we do it on a global scale?